What Female Bartenders Deserve

Someone once praised Ginger Rogers for dancing every step with Fred Astaire backward and in high heels. (For those of you unfamiliar with the duo, take a moment to watch this. Go ahead, I'll wait.) I thought of what Ginger needed to do to keep up with Fred when spotting last week’s posting at askmen.com about the country’s 10 best female bartenders. Like everyone else, I eat up lists of any kind, if only for the conversations they start.

Of course, being recognized and featured surely feels good, so congratulations to all 10 bartenders mentioned. But the idea behind the list strikes me as a little backward. Not because these women aren’t great bartenders (I know most of them, and they are all extremely talented and beyond competent while a few exude star quality — not saying who, mind you…) or that they don’t deserve recognition — they all do. And the article's writer, Josh Krist, hit the perfect notes of respect and admiration for their skills. It just seems to me that even a Website driven by the leer of men’s mag attitude (another Top 10 piece on the site suggests places a guy can take his mistress for a quiet meal in New York City) missed a chance to showcase America’s Top 10 bartenders, male and female — a list that could reasonably include three, five or maybe more of these women, unrestricted by their gender.

Here's the nub of my complaint: Even at a time when female bartenders and saloon keepers are getting their due, they (and their success) still are thought of in some quarters as unusual enough to be grouped in this manner. I don’t like the term "PC" when it comes to computers or politics, and my issue isn’t that these women are being objectified, stereotyped or humored by lurking sexism — the article is too minor a misstep for any of those complaints.

But I don’t suppose any Website or magazine is making a list of the Top 10 male nursing-school deans, and, if I did read that article, I’d wonder what the hell went awry in the editorial meeting when it was decided that topic was a good idea. However, I’m guessing that, all told, the attention is good (if awkwardly positioned) and that, overall, coverage like this is a case of two steps forward, one step back for female bartenders. Ginger Rogers knew all about that step.

Bar design is not usually my purview; I leave that thorny patch to Robert Plotkin over at Smart Bar, the new Nightclub & Bar enewsletter. But I know how frustrating it is for bartenders to be given little input into what it takes to set up a bar that's good for speed, efficiency and quality. Too bad so many restaurant designers give so little thought to an operation’s profit center. I’ve discussed with many bartenders and beverage execs how the new cocktail world requires better foresight, planning and just plain thinking about what is now required to build and run an intelligent and successful bar. So is someone else: Check out what Grant Achatz and Craig Schoettler are doing in Chicago for Aviary Kitchen, and try to control your envy.

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